How To Theme and Structure Your Class: A look inside the mind of a veteran trainer as she plans her class.
We all have different approaches to how we prepare our classes. However, it’s probably fair to say that most trainers like to work by muscle groups (agonist/antagonist), body parts (upper body, lower body, core) or workout styles (HIIT, outdoor, endurance, etc).
Another approach is to think of it in terms of ‘themes’. By creating a theme, you intentionally take a specific idea throughout your class. This can help people connect and understand the importance of each topic.
Another bonus is that with a theme, a class might not feel as ‘random’ and your participants might get a sense of accomplishment at the end of it and grow a desire to come back for more.
If you would like to give it a try, here are my 3 steps on how to put it all together:
1) How do you pick a theme?
Consider what your clients need.
I like to mentally scan through my previous classes to identify reoccurring issues amongst my participants. For example, right now, a lot of people are experiencing covid-induced home office side-effects. In fact, in every class, there’s at least one or two people complaining about hip issues. Some of the reasons might stem from sitting too much or because they are not properly set up for working from home.
So “hips” are a theme that will most likely resonate with, and benefit my clients.
2) How do you generate interest?
Pick a catchy name!
Let’s say I want to improve my participant’s hip issues. When trying to name the class, I try to make it sound friendly and approachable – like ‘Happy Hips!’ People with injuries, pain and/or discomfort are already on edge and likely to crave something that will sooth their concern.
By contrast, a class for people who are ready to sweat and go all-out would get a more exciting name. For example, a HIIT or cardio workout may be called ‘Don’t stop until you drop’ (probably not what a person who is close to hip surgery wants to hear).
3) Now, how do you pick the right exercises?
Pick exercises that will address the shortcomings in their daily lives.
Start by analyzing your participant’s lifestyle. Then identify the situation which got the person into trouble in the first place. This will tell you right away about the specific nature of the problem, why it occurs, and what they need to work on.
Imagine someone working from home on their couch right now. They no longer get up regularly to get a coffee like they would when at the office. They don’t go on regular walks during lunch, and they may miss out on walking/biking to work everyday. Their lives have changed and so have their muscles.
Their hip flexors feel tight and the gluteal muscles are under tension all day. Blood flow in the hip area (which would usually supply the joint with nutrients, synovial fluid and other necessary items) is reduced to a minimum.
What do they need?
Here’s how I would structure a “Happy Hips!” class for them in 3 parts:
A) The Warm-Up
I would start by warming up the joint with hip circles, leg swings and anything that creates multidirectional movement in the hip joint. Maybe throw in some body weight squats, deadlifts and lunges as well.
B) The Main Workout
For the main part of the class, working on releasing tension in the hip flexors is key. If you are familiar with foam rolling, you can instruct to use a tennis ball to work deep into the iliopsoas muscle. You can also incorporate dynamic low lunges, seated windshield wipers or even cobra pose to relax and ‘lengthen’ the muscle. As a tight hip flexor can also cause low back issues due to its peculiar location, adding a low back stretch (on your back, hugging both knees into your chest, or anything of your choice) is also a good idea.
Once we have worked on range of motion for the tight muscles, we can start strengthening the ‘weak’ or overstretched muscle. In the case of sitting too much, the gluteus maximus muscle is under constant tension all day. Most of the time, people will also lose their ability to target and actually engage that muscle after a while.
Here’s where an ‘activation exercise’ comes in handy. I like 4×30 second intervals as they are just short enough to work – but not overwork – the muscle. My exercise of choice is obviously a dynamic glutebridge.
Once the muscle is primed for movement, we can work on all other surrounding muscles of the hip like adductors, abductors, gluteus medius, minimus and hamstrings.
How many sets, reps or seconds is up to you to decide, depending on who you are dealing with in each class.
C) The Cool-Down & Finishing Touches
End the session with some breathing exercises or nice, slow yin-like shapes and stretches to calm the nervous system.
These 3 steps: considering your clients needs, generating relatable interest, and picking exercises based on their lifestyle, should help you frame your classes nicely.
By centering around a “theme” you offer structure, without making it too specific. After the class, you will have addressed their most pressing issues and your participants will go home feeling lighter and maybe even a bit more confident because they know what is going on in their bodies!
Jessi Schlegel is a fitness trainer and educator. She draws from a versatile background with a degree in Sports Therapy from Germany and in-the-field business experience as co-owner of a gym in Vancouver (Canada). She currently works as a Personal Trainer, Group Class Instructor, Yoga Instructor, Holistic Nutritionist and Online Coach. With over 18 years of experience, she aims to pass on knowledge and share her passion and experiences with clients and trainers around theworld.